In the spring of 1884 Dodge City was getting the reputation of being just another respectable farm town. The town needed to do something to proclaim to the world they were still the toughest spot in the west. To achieve that goal, former mayor Alonzo Webster had a plan to spice up Dodge City’s Fourth of July celebration. The idea Webster came up with was deemed brilliant by some, but evil by others. Regardless of the opposition, Webster was still able to raise $3000 dollars in just a few hours for this event, and in a day he had $10,000 in hand.
On July 4th, 1884 there were bullfights in Dodge City, Kansas.
The goal was to stage full-fledged bullfights like those in Mexico. The promoters turned their backs on federal and state laws against bullfights, and ignored pleas made by the ASPCA and other groups to cancel the fights on the grounds such events were inhumane. The promoters countered bad press by touting the fights as an "athletic exhibition" rather than a case of cruelty to animals.
D.W. (Doc) Barton was assigned the task of obtaining the bulls for this exhibition.
As a rule, bulls are bred specifically for fighting. But Barton assembled 12 of the most sprightly and belligerent Texas bulls from nearby grazing grounds. Despite this break with tradition, the town was enthusiastic and showed great interest in the bulls he chose.
The excitement surrounding the selection of bulls was surpassed only by the arrival of five Mexican matadors a few days before the event. Just before the fight on July 4th they paraded through town in their finery with the promoters and the Cowboy Band. Later, over 4,000 people gathered in the arena to watch the performance.
Genuine bullfighting is a performance rather than a fight. In most sports the outcome is in doubt, but in bullfighting the outcome is almost always certain. The satisfaction of the crowd is measured by the matadors finesse as they "dance" with the animal before they kill it with one final, swift thrust from their sword.
Only one bull died this way in Dodge City on July 4 and 5, 1884. And most of the other bulls didn’t have much fight in them. Still the occasion had all the markings of a genuine bullfight, down to picadors sticking the bulls with lances.
Some claim it was the only real bullfight held on U.S. soil. That claim is doubtful, but it was one of only a handful of such affairs which occured in the United States.
There are still bullfights in the United States, but no animals are harmed. A case in point, was the Portuguese, or bloodless, bullfight that marked the 100th anniversary of the 1884 Dodge City bullfight. Also, rodeos have staged "bullfights."
The rodeo clowns, who protect rodeo contestants from the bulls, have held separate competitions where they tease or play with the bulls. Until a few years ago the Dodge City Round-Up Rodeo held these competitions. If anybody "loses" these encounters, it is usually the clown.
Some argue that the bull’s death is swift and relatively painless in a customary bullfight. However, our society errs on the side of humanness and continues to ban traditional bullfighting. So, it is unlikely we’ll see a repeat of the great bullfight of 1884.